Saturday, July 30, 2016

Peter Pan and Patsy Stone

Patsy Stone and Edina Monsoon--leads of the new Absolutely Fabulous movie--may be monstrous (although I find them less so in their current incarnation). But my uncomfortable admiration of Patsy may be possible because I know actress Joanna Lumley is not only an activist for causes in the areas of human rights and animal welfare, but has also been instrumental in saving the house and garden where a young J. M. Barrie first dreamed of Peter Pan.

Barrie attended Dumfries Academy for five years, and played with the two boys who lived in the adjacent Moat Brae estate. From these games came the first inklings of the characters and plot of Peter and Wendy.

… when shades of night began to fall, certain young mathematicians shed their triangles, crept up walls and down trees, and became pirates in a sort of Odyssey that was long afterwards to become the play of Peter Pan. For our escapades in a certain Dumfries Garden, which is enchanted land to me, were certainly the genesis of that nefarious work, Peter Pan.” -- J. M. Barrie, 1924, upon being awarded the Freedom of the Burgh of Dumfries

The house was built in 1823, eventually converted to a private hospital and nursing home, abandoned by the 1990s and slated for demolition. But in 2007, the Peter Pan Moat Brae Trust was created to restore the house and gardens and convert the estate to Scotland's first National Centre for Children's Literature and Storytelling--an educational and cultural center for both local schools and anyone who loves the works of J. M. Barrie.

Dumfries is an economically challenged area, and the site was to be used for affordable housing. But the center does not abandon the goal of helping the town. It will bring tourist trade, jobs, and volunteer opportunities to Dumfries, along with skills development and literacy education.

The Discovery Garden will have a Neverland theme.

Lumley is patron of the trust, and in 2011 she launched the fundraiser which has raised £5.3 of its £5.8 target. Moat Brae will host artists in residence and hold ongoing workshops and artists in residence--programs which have already begun, even though the entire project won't be complete until 2018. One such event was an morning family presentation in March 2016 with Lumley and comedian David Walliams, who is not only popular for his work with comic Matt Lucas, but for the five children's books he's written, which have sold well over two million copies.

Another presentation was a 2015 production of scenes from Barrie's very first play, Bandelero the Bandit, which he wrote at the age of 17, and which had unexpected success when a local clergyman declared it immoral. Barrie thought the play lost, but a copy of the script was found in the U.S., and a full production will eventually be staged at Moat Brae.

Naturally, Christine de Poortere, keeper of the Peter Pan archives at Great Ormond Street Hospital, has visited Moat Brae, where she met with the children from a local school.

And a picture book--Sixteen String Jack and the Garden of Adventure--was published in 2015 about Moat Brae House and J. M. Barrie's adventures there. (When my copy arrives, you can read about it here.) It's written by Tom Pow and illustrated by Sendak Fellowship recipient Ian Andrew, and is available (along with other books about Moat Brae and J. M. Barrie) at the impressive Moat Brae website.